2 of the MOST Common Kettlebell Mistakes

by Josh Henkin on September 18, 2013

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If you train long enough there is one absolute guarantee, you will make mistakes! Most people look at mistakes as a negative, but in fact they teach us so many valuable lessons. We learn what works for us as individuals, we realize that different points in our lives require different types of training, an understanding that our needs change as we go through our journey of fitness will evolve. You see, the only way you actually learn these lessons is by making many of these mistakes.

I hope to save you a bit of time from 20 years of training so that you don’t have to learn all these lessons on your own! When comes to training with kettlebells for the past ten years I have also ran into many trainees that seem to run into many of the same issues.

By writing this article I hope to help you learn from my own experiences. Yes, you will make mistakes, but realize the only really bad mistake is the one you keep repeating! Hopefully I can help you avoid those times of frustration with two of the most common mistakes and result haltering kettlebelI mistakes.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Any time you start something new, it is cool, it is exciting, it is motivating. Unfortunately, just as many times we take a good idea and take it to the extreme. Getting reintroduced to kettlebells for me in 2002 was the first time that I saw pressing weight overhead being heavily promoted as a means of improving health and performance.

Many fitness programs were still touting overhead work as dangerous to the shoulder. However, the RKC focused on many overhead lifts as a means of having a healthy and strong upper body. Overhead lifts were about integrating the lower body, trunk, and upper body in one efficient and highly effective unit.

What was the mistake? Many people went from very little experience of lifting overhead to 90% of their program or more being overhead lifts. I started to see an influx of people with overtraining injuries because like anything good, people tended to overdue it!

What should you do instead? Instead of taking a good thing and going to the extreme, slowly integrate new ideas and exercises into your routine. Nothing wrong with adding 2-3 sets of 3-5 repetitions of a new exercise into your training program. That ends up being about 15 repetitions, instead of 30 plus repetitions that I would see in most new training programs.

Find out how your body responds, see if you are ready to do more or if your body needs more preparation. One of the hardest things for many of us to do is to slow ourselves down. Trust me, patience has the reward of long-term progress and injury free training versus the instant progress many see from just doing something new and stalling early and developing issues!

Not a Balanced Routine

You just read about exercise x, it is the new exercise that basically is suppose to solve ALL your training needs. This is the ONLY exercise you ever need to use a again. What do you do? If you are like most of us, you do as you are told. You focus on this one, okay, maybe two different lifts and POOF, all your training needs are solved!

The reality is that most of us need much more variety, especially earlier in training. Whether you are referencing legendary coaches and scientists like Tudor Bompa that spoke of an “anatomical adaptation phase”, periodization models that spoke of “general physical preparation”, or even old time strongmen that used a wide array of gymnastic and strength training exercises to build a strong foundation before more focused training. In any of these situations, the best coaches and athletes realized a need to prepare the body for more intense training.

I remember many people coming to me so excited to start kettlebell training and when I asked them how much exercise they had been doing most hadn’t done anything with great intensity for some time. Looking at their training they were doing one to three kettlebell exercises. Many times with the same movement patterns.

Here is a common kettlebell routine I would see.

  • Kettlebell Swings 3 x 15
  • Kettlebell Clean and Press 3 x 5
  • Kettlebell Snatches 3 x 10

I am taking some liberties with the programming, but you get the idea. All three have a two legged hip hinge movement, all done explosively. There is no squatting, no lunging, no single leg work, no stability exercises. Two out of the three exercises are overhead movements there is no upper body pulling at all. You start to see such movements are quite unbalanced. How might I change this routine? Here is something I loved to provide with beginners.

Workout 1

  • Goblet Drop Lunge 2 x 6 each side
  • Rows 2 x 8-10
  • Suitcase Deadlift 2 x 8-10 per side
  • Overhead Press 2 x 5 each side
  • Front Plank 2 x 30 seconds

Workout 2

  • Single Leg Deadlift 2 x 6 each side
  • Assisted Pull-ups (Band or otherwise) 2 x 6-8
  • Front Squat 2 x 6-8
  • Get-up Sit-up 2 x 5 each side
  • Mountain Climber 2 30 seconds

You can see there are two more exercises per routine, but that isn’t the big difference. In each routine we get a far more well rounded movement based program. We place the most challenging exercises first and more isolated or stable exercises later. There is single leg work, balance of pushing and pulling, working different angles, and a compliment of squatting, lunging, pulling, and foundational stability.

Most people make the mistake of over doing or not doing enough for their fitness in the initial stages. A good base of fitness helps prepare the body for more intense programs later on.

One of my favorite stories to illustrate my point is follows the path of a young man. In his early 20’s this well built young man (with limited training experience) told me he hurt his back deadlifting. I asked to see his technique and program. His technique needed a few tweaks, but his program needed far more!

I asked him, “Where did you get this program?” He replied, “It is what elite powerlifters do!” “How long have you been training?” I had to ask, “About six months.” After asking him to repeat to me who the program was for a few times he understood his mistake. I wasn’t trying to embarrass the young man, but rather remind him that following the right program for your current ability level helps you get to higher and higher levels.

If you follow these two simple rules I ensure you that you will have many years of success. It can be hard in this day and age of instant gratification to have the discipline to have patience and honesty with where you are currently starting. However, if you are able to implement these ideas, the rewards are years of successful training with the greater chances of experiencing plateaus and injury!

***

About Josh: Josh Henkin, Senior RKC, CSCS has been a RKC instructor since 2003 and has implemented kettlebell programs for major Division I programs, SWAT teams, and many different general fitness programs. Josh is also the creator of the DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training system where he is a highly sought after presenter worldwide. He can be reached at info@ultimatesandbagtraining.com or http://DVRTFitness.com.

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  • trooper

    Surely a swing is a pull!

    • Josh Henkin

      Yes, a swing is a pull, but so is a clean, snatch, deadlift, etc. So we want to make sure to have balance in the program.

  • Fully agreed, Josh. Gotta work all the planes of motion. Most people will work almost exclusively in the sagittal plane. Adding in side lunges and caraioca is good. Also, I don’t feel that kettlebell motions directly strengthen the chest muscles all that much, so I usually add some push ups too.

  • Michael Krivka

    Great information Josh! Sometimes the excitement of learning something new overwhelms common-sense and leads to disaster… luckily we have great trainers like you to set us straight! 🙂

  • Bob

    “Two out of the three exercises are overhead movements there is no upper body pulling at all.”
    Cleans? Snatches? No upper body pulling? Are you sure?

  • Josh Henkin

    Bob, those are lower body pulls not upper body pulls. We want to see scapular retraction on upper body pulls.

  • Josh Henkin

    There seems to be confusion around an upper body pull and lower body pull, very different !

  • Josh Henkin

    If you are performing an upper body pull on swings, cleans, and snatches we have severe technique issues

  • Josh Henkin

    Lol Michael, I’ll take the compliment, thank you!

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